March is a big month. Not only is it National Nutrition Month, but it is National Frozen Food Month, too. The theme for this year's National Nutrition Month is "Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day." As a dietitian, I often get asked what I feed my family. I figured this month would be a good time to share how I fit frozen foods into "My Way" of eating.
Our freezer always has a variety of frozen vegetables. The most common kinds - stir-fry blend, stew vegetables, mixed vegetables (for all of those Minnesota hot dishes) and steamer bags of vegetables. I lean toward frozen vegetables for a few reasons. First of all, they are quick and easy. I frequently throw them in a slow-cooker, hot dish or steam them in the microwave. It doesn't get much easier than that. The other advantage of using frozen vegetables is that I only use the amount I need, making it a budget-friendly option for my family. And if those reasons aren't enough, frozen fruits and vegetables are now found to be as nutritious as fresh. To the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is virtually no nutritional difference between fresh and frozen vegetables and fruits. Those frozen vegetables many times go from the farm to freezer within 24 hours, preserving the nutrition content in those veggies.
Along with frozen vegetables, we also have number of frozen fruits in our freezer as well. I have always used frozen fruits in yogurt and smoothies to help me get a few extra servings of fruit, especially when my favorites aren't necessarily in season. However, in the last year and a half, I have found a new use for frozen fruit. Frozen fruit is my No. 1 favorite way to help my toddler when he has new teeth coming in. Even before his teeth started making their way through, we fed him frozen fruit in Munchkin Mesh Food Feeders for a nutritious snack. Our favorites are mangos and strawberries.
Another frozen food item that can be found in my freezer at all times is a bag of frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts. On weekends I like to boil a few of the chicken breasts and then cut them into chunks.
Then I divide them up into separate containers and refrigerate or freeze for use later. That way I have them ready to use in a number of our favorite meals, such as enchiladas, soups, stir-fry or fajitas.
Of course there are other foods that you may find in my freezer throughout the year. Right now those items are waffles, ground turkey, ravioli, French fries both regular and sweet potato - and a couple frozen pizzas. Yes, frozen pizzas are in there, for those last-resort, "something-came-up" or "I-don't-feel-like-cooking" nights. I also have a few frozen meals in our freezer. I cook for three - actually, two-and-a-half is more accurate - as oftentimes when I make a large meal, I'll freeze half of it to cook another day. This works great with soups, chili and many other meals I make. Last, I'd be lying if I said there was no ice cream in my freezer. Ice cream is one of my favorite foods, especially chocolate - everything in moderation, right?!
If you look at MyPlate, the new food guidance system that replaced MyPyramid, you will notice that half your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables. I figure, if my freezer is filled with half fruits and vegetables, the chances of us eating them at meals are better.
Adapted from Eating Well, Inc.
Serves: 5 (1-1/4-cup servings)
All you need:
1 (14 ounce) can vegetable broth or reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried tarragon
1/8 tsp salt
1 (16 ounce) package frozen mixed vegetables
1 (16 ounce) package frozen cheese tortellini
All you do:
1. Put a large pot of water on to boil.
2. Meanwhile, whisk broth and flour in a small bowl. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until just beginning to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add broth mixture to the pan; bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheese, tarragon and salt.
3. Add vegetables and tortellini to the boiling water; cook until tender, 3-5 minutes. Drain; add the sauce and stir to coat
Nutrition Information per serving: 429 Calories, 56g Carbohydrate, 5g Fiber, 15g Fat, 8g Saturated Fat, 14g Protein, 544mg Sodium
Katie Wilhelmi, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian at the Marshall Hy-Vee Food Store.